Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats


MEN OF MATHEMATICS
The ninth of May 1831 marked the beginning of the end.
About 200 young republicans held a banquet to protest against
the royal order disbanding the artillery which Galois had
joined. Toasts were drunk to the Revolutions of 1789 and 1793,
to Robespierre, and to the Revolution of 1830, The whole atmo-
sphere of the gathering was revolutionary and defiant. Galois
rose to propose a toast, his glass hi one hand, his open pocket
knife in the other: 'To Louis Philippe' - the King. His com-
panions misunderstood the purpose of the toast and whistled
him down. Then they saw the open knife. Interpreting this as a
threat against the life of the King, they howled their approval.
A friend of Galois, seeing the great Alexandre Dumas and other
notables passing by the open windows, implored Galois to sit
down, but the uproar continued. Galois was the hero of the
moment, and the artillerists adjourned to the street to celebrate
their exuberance by dancing all night. The following day Galois
was arrested at his mother's house and thrown into the-prison
ofSainte-Pelagie.
A clever lawyer, with the help of Galois' loyal friends, devised
an ingenious defence, to the effect that Galois had really said:
*To Louis Philippe, if he turns traitor.* The open knife was easily
explained: Galois had been using it to cut his chicken. This was
the fact. The saving clause in his toast, according to his friends
who swore they had heard it, was drowned by the whistling*
and only those close to the speaker caught what was said,
Galois would not claim t&e saving clause.
During the trial Galois' demeanour was one of haughty con-
tempt for the court and his accusers. Caring nothing for the
outcome, he launched into an impassioned tirade against all the
forces of political injustice. The judge was a human being with
children of his own. He warned the accused that he was not
helping his own case and sharply silenced him. The prosecution
quibbled over the point whether the restaurant where the inci-
dent occurred was or was not a 'public place' when used for a
semi-private banquet. On this nice point of law hung the liberty
of Galois. But it was evident that both court and jury were
moved by the youth of the accused. After only ten minutes*
deliberation the jury returned a'verdict of not guilty. Galois
410